Is the Starbucks Rewards Program Worth It?

Today I decided that I would make the plunge and get myself a Starbucks Rewards Card.

Okay, that’s not entirely true. I decided this yesterday when I downloaded the app and thought it would be that simple – ha! Little did I know it was a little more of a process than that. Okay, maybe it wasn’t – but I wanted a physical loyalty card too, and I was on a mission to get one.

Let me start this off with a confession: lately I’ve been spending unhealthy amounts of time at various Starbucks locations. Living alone in a city where I really don’t know anyone other than my coworkers, it gives me an excuse to get out of my pjs and venture out into the world on days other than the three days I intern. In the past week I think I’ve been to Starbucks at least 4 times. I switch up the locations because I don’t want the Starbucks employees to think I don’t have a life – even if aside from work, that may be pretty true at the moment.

To be completely honest with you, I’ve actually pretty much kicked my college caffeine addiction. I don’t drink coffee while I’m at work, and only started drinking it again so I have an excuse to sit in a public location and mooch some free wifi.

I chose to go to the quieter of my regular Starbucks locations so that I would be able to get some assistance from one of the baristas. I should have gotten his name because he was great/super nice/overall the best (I still could because I’m writing this post from said Starbucks, but I don’t wanna be a total creep). He explained that basically the rewards program required you to get one of their gift cards and then to proceed to use it like a debit card.

Really? I need to get a debit card?

This stressed me out. I don’t need another debit card! No way, Jose. Thank you, but no thank you. I prefer to have as few cards as possible and I was kiiiiiinda hoping this rewards program would be like a CVS loyalty card where I could just scan it (or give my phone number) every visit and accumulate points and coupons.

My new barista friend was so kind and helpful though and made it very hard to say no. He pointed me to a gift card display and said, “We have 100 to choose from, pick your favorite and I’ll get you all set up.” Damn, he got me. How could I say no to his kind eyes?

And wait – 100 TO CHOOSE FROM? Yes. There were literally AT LEAST 100 loyalty cards to choose from. I settled on a pretty flowered one after about 5 minutes of internal debate because some I liked, but felt like baristas would assume I was flirting with them if I flashed a card that said, “You’re a peach!” with a giant watercolor peach on it, even if that was the cutest one.

New card in hand, my new barista pal allowed me to cut the now crazy-long line and set me up. He explained that the card was good to go and that I should hook it up to the app to learn about all the different possible rewards levels and their perks.

Now I’ve done that step and want to know if this rewards program is actually worth it. Should I really be putting money on another debit card?

Ooooh, let’s look inside and check out these details!

Welcome Level (Level 1)

  • Birthday drink or treat on us
  • Birthday coupon for 15% off a purchase at StarbucksStore.com
  • Custom offers via email (be sure to opt in)

So basically I need to wait until August to get much of anything. Fine, fine. I wonder how good the deals in those emails will be anyway. The fact that they describe them as “custom offers” already leads me to believe that they’ll be taking my data and making them offers I can’t refuse – more on this later.

Green Level (Level 2)

  • Birthday drink or treat on us
  • Birthday coupon for 15% off a purchase at StarbucksStore.com
  • Custom offers via email (be sure to opt in)
  • Free in-store refills on hot or iced brewed coffee and tea

This new perk is something I could get into! All I do is sit around drinking coffee. In the time it has taken me to write this post I’ve already finished my Grande Unsweetened Iced Coffee and could use a refill. In order to reach this level you need to collect five stars in 12 months – I’m sort of unclear about how I go about doing this. I’m pretty sure I just need to pay using my card.. but that seems too easy and attainable. I will probably cry silent tears of joy if this is, in fact, how it works.

Gold Level (Level 3)

  • Birthday drink or treat on us
  • Birthday coupon for 15% off a purchase at StarbucksStore.com
  • Custom offers via email (be sure to opt in)
  • Free in-store refills on hot or iced brewed coffee and tea
  • A free food or drink item after another 12 Stars earned
  • Personalized Gold Card

Wait so I need to come here 42 times, consequently earning 42 Stars, in order to get a free drink or food item? (I say this because you need 30 Stars to reach this level in the first place.) That seems like an awful lot visits to Starbucks to get my $3 drink for free. Personalized gold card sounds cool and bougie though – I’m into that. Unfortunately, by the time I reach that level I’ll probably be attached to my beautiful new floral card.

You have to admit, that's one pretty card.
You have to admit, that’s one pretty card.

Is the rewards program worth it? Only time will tell, I guess. It probably depends on the person. As of right now, I think as soon as I reach the Green Level it will be, since I spend so much time just sitting in Starbucks applying to full-time jobs and working. However, once I’m busier and at work all the time, I sorta doubt it.

Do any of you guys have any experience with the Starbucks Rewards Program? I’m still sorta confused about what it really means, other than that I’ve accepted my addiction and am admitting that I’m a little bit #basic. Have you guys found it to be worth it or do you feel like Starbucks is benefitting more than you are? What I mean is, for every purchase you make, Starbucks is collecting data on you. What time of day you get your fix, what drinks you prefer, how often you come to the store, etc. Do you feel like you’re actually benefitting from giving them your data? Do you feel as though you’re being properly reimbursed for the “sale” of your data? Let me know in the comments!

Until next time.

Always,
Julia

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4 thoughts on “Is the Starbucks Rewards Program Worth It?

  1. You’re absolutely right that Starbucks is benefiting from the consumer data collected from its loyalty program. But I think the difference in opinion among consumers is based on whether it’s ethical to use this data and transform it into rich information. Some argue that it’s a total invasion of privacy, while others say we receive better service and products as a result.

    Personally, I don’t mind logging my purchases with Starbucks (I’m currently at the Gold level). In the grand scheme of the company, I highly doubt anyone is looking at EVERY single customer; it’s more likely that I’m just a number in their statistics. Plus, it doesn’t cost me any extra to use their card/app, and I get the small benefits like free refills and drinks. In the end, it’s a mutual exchange that Starbucks and some consumers want to capitalize on– valuable customer data at the price of a few free drinks.

    And if you (the general audience “you”) don’t like being tracked like this, just don’t participate in the loyalty program and pay for your orders in cash (not sure if they do any data mining based off credit/debit cards used). It’s not as if Starbucks is an exclusive members-only shindig.

    Great post though, Julia. I wondered for a vague moment myself whether the Starbucks loyalty program is worth it.

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    • I do agree that it will be mutually beneficial, and that we’ll receive better (i.e.: more relevant) offers and overall store offerings as a result. And I also agree with you when you say that if a user doesn’t want their data mined they should just not opt to participate (but really, they had me at free refills, so I was gonna end up participating regardless, hehe).

      The more that I think about it, I guess what I don’t understand is what the difference is between having a loyalty card that you just scan every time you make a purchase (which would still collect the same data) versus having a card that requires you add money to it. Maybe their goal was just to make it more convenient for the user.. but I think it’s only more convenient if the user links their debit card to their Starbucks Rewards account, and I’m not so sure I wanna do that. (I’m one of those people who freaks every time there is another app hack, lol).

      Thanks for not only reading, but also making me rethink my POV, or at the very least get a better sense of where my discomfort lies within the system & what my stance is! ❤

      Like

    • Hi Julia. Great post. I went through a similar thought process when I first heard about the Starbucks loyalty program:

      http://unlikelyradical.com/is-the-starbucks-rewards-program-a-good-deal/

      Personally, even though I’m a fan of Starbucks (and am actually writing this from within a Starbucks), I opted not to sign up, not just because of the tracking, but because of the inducements to spend more money. And I spend enough money at Starbucks as it is!

      Like

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